Yesterday, the cities of Emeryville and Oakland held a joint press conference announcing the completion of the year-long Family Matters Shelter for homeless families. Today, this temporary emergency shelter opens for shelter, on-site housing navigation services and child support. The project was initially proposed to the Planning Commission back in July 2019.
“Emeryville is a small city with big ambitions and bold dreams,” said 2020 Emeryville Mayor Christian Patz at the press conference. “Justice starts with housing, and we are pleased that Emeryville had the land and the site to bring housing and services to our community.”
The site is located in Emeryville on 4300 San Pablo Avenue at the corner of 43rd Street and the former site of the Robert Savage Recreation Center, named after the former councilmember and first Black mayor of Emeryville. The structure was left vacant after the Recreation Department moved to the Emeryville Center of Community Life when it opened in 2016.
“I remember being there when the Rec. Center was named after my grandfather. I remember how proud he was,” noted Savage’s granddaughter Charlandra Rachal when we reached out to her. “This aligns with his values and what he fought for. He was truly selfless and worked tirelessly to promote equity in our community. At the same time, I don’t think the city has done a great job of preserving the legacy he and others worked so hard for.”
Oakland and Emeryville announce opening of new emergency shelter for unhoused families https://t.co/40vbC41A9m
— Libby Schaaf (@LibbySchaaf) June 9, 2020
The Family Matters shelter was originally scheduled to open in time for Christmas last year. According to a City of Oakland press release, the program will operate at the Emeryville location for approximately one year, while the City of Oakland works to identify a permanent site in Oakland. The cost of operating the shelter for one year is $1.5 million. Family Matters shelter was funded by the City of Oakland and the state through the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP).
“This is a place of respite for families, a safe place to sleep and an opportunity to dream big,” said Oakland City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney at the press conference. “We want to thank the taxpayers of Emeryville and Oakland for entrusting us with the resources to open this facility, to provide a place of caring, so that when that unsheltered mom is holding her baby, your arms are around her, too.” McElhaney represents Oakland’s District 3, which includes West Oakland.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter will initially shelter 10 pre-screened families to allow for physical distancing. The goal is to provide shelter for up to 100 individuals — about 20 to 25 families — for one to six months, or longer, depending on need. As the families gain self-sufficiency, the groups operating inside the shelter will assist in securing permanent housing for the families.
East Oakland Community Project (EOCP), a homeless services nonprofit, will operate the shelter. Family Front Door (FFD) is in charge of providing homeless services and is the single entry point for homeless families in northern Alameda County to access homeless resources and family shelter sites. FFD is a collaborative between Building Futures with Women and Children (BFWC), the EOCP and the City of Oakland.
“We’re obviously ecstatic to have been a part of this partnership with Emeryville and Oakland to help move families towards stability and towards self-sufficiency,” said Terrance Thompson, EOCP’s director of transitional housing, at the press conference. Thompson will be managing the facility.
Residential counselors and staff will be on-site 24 hours a day. During the day, 10 to 12 staff members will be on-site. At night, a minimum of two staff members will be on-site, according to an Emeryville City Council memo published in July 2019. Families will receive housing-centered services, including two housing navigators who will assist families through case management and provide assistance in finding permanent housing and employment. They’ll also receive life skills training, job development and career counseling. EOCP has partnered with Sankofa Counseling for substance abuse and mental health counseling, if needed.
Inside the existing portables will be sleeping areas with personal storage areas for family members, bathrooms, a shared living and dining room and an outdoor play area and educational space for children. There will also be on-site showers, washers and dryers and fresh meals delivered twice a day.
EOCP Executive Director Wendy Jackson said EOCP has built relationships with Oakland Unified School District and is hoping to develop the same type of relationship with Emery Unified School District, not just for families experiencing homelessness who could enroll their children at EUSD, but also for families in the school district who may be experiencing housing instability and need support. According to EUSD sources, there is currently one student in the school district experiencing homelessness.
There isn’t parking available on-site, and families with vehicles are not allowed to park on 41st Street, 43rd Street, Essex Street and Salem Street. Families will instead be directed to park on Park Avenue.
EOCP’s primary goals are operating from a ‘housing first’ perspective, which she said means that people don’t have to reach a certain standard or level to deserve housing or get into housing, and that EOCP will “meet them where they are.”
Lakeisha Livingston, program manager for FFD, said families are placed in shelters by typically calling “211” – 211 is the County of Alameda’s information line for housing, emergency housing and community support services. The nonprofit will screen families, enter them into the North County Family Coordinated Entry system and based on need, send them to shelters. The families have typically come from northern Alameda County – Emeryville, Oakland, Berkeley, Albany and Piedmont.
“Most homeless families are from northern Alameda County,” said Jackson. “They’re people who grew up here, who went to school here, who have grandparents here or had grandparents here, went to church here. These people are our neighbors.”
In northern Alameda County, around 120 families are sleeping on the streets every night. According to the 2019 Alameda County Homeless Count Report, families (people in families with at least one adult and one child under age 18) make up roughly 7 percent of the overall population experiencing homelessness in Alameda County. The report pointed out that this is a “notable” decrease of 26 percent from the previous two years. 95 percent of families had been counted while they were in county shelters and transitional housing programs.
Jackson said families from northern Alameda County are often homeless due to domestic violence and inability to afford area rents. There are racial disparities in those who are homeless. African Americans are disproportionately impacted by homelessness. While African Americans make up 11 percent of the population in Alameda County, they make up 47 percent of the county’s homeless population.
Once permanent housing is secured, families could receive financial support from EOCP, such as security deposits and short term rental subsidies. EOCP commits to following up with families after they are placed in permanent housing, “because within a three to six month period, if there’s a problem it’s going to show up then, and we try to follow up for a year.” Jackson underlined the need for previously unhoused families to gain secure footing within the first six months after being housed. She said this could be achieved by matching families with appropriate community resources so they can attain financial security.
“For our family program, we have extremely high [permanent housing] placement rates between 65 percent and 87 percent,” said Jackson. “The most important thing is our recidivism rate for our families is 4 percent. That is significant because the idea of stabilizing children is the most important idea and reality of all.”
In July 2019, EOCP held a community meeting to inform the neighborhood of the project. Roughly 20 neighbors attended. The concerns revolved around parking, noise from AC units on the east side of the property (they’ve since been relocated), trash and the social environment outside of the shelter. Neighbors were interested in knowing if visitors would be allowed to see the families on a regular basis.
“People sometimes connect with their families, especially on the weekends, and there’s dropping off, but there’s no visitations,” Jackson said. “People don’t come in, they don’t hang out outside to see people. The only people who come to visit are providers of service or housing.”
“We have said in many ways in our national conversation that somehow they deserve it, that they’ve made bad choices, as opposed to looking at the systemic and structural way that we’ve kept people in poverty for too long.”
– Oakland City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney
EOCP currently operates a 145-bed shelter in East Oakland (including 25 family beds) as well as 23 units of family transitional housing, and ten beds of transitional housing for young adults. Last July, Jackson reassured the Emeryville community that there were no police or neighbor-driven complaints against any of EOCP’s many shelters and transitional housing units during the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Because the current family homeless system is at capacity almost every night — there is limited shelter space particularly for fathers with children — the Family Matters shelter will act as a stop-gap for the time being while both the cities of Emeryville and Oakland search for more permanent housing sites and solutions. In the meantime, families with little to no means can begin rebuilding futures for themselves and their children.
“There’s been an image of who the poor are in this country,” City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney at the press conference on Monday. “We have said in many ways in our national conversation that somehow they deserve it, that they’ve made bad choices, as opposed to looking at the systemic and structural way that we’ve kept people in poverty for too long.”